Raising, releasing monarch butterflies a 'spiritual exercise' for Ottawa woman

April Douglas rescues monarch butterfly eggs and caterpillars and raises them in her Ottawa home. She explains how she does it.

Ottawa's April Douglas has rescued and hand-raised 100 monarch butterflies

April Douglas, who has raised monarch butterflies in her Ottawa home, calls the 17-day transformation a 'very spiritual experience'. (April Douglas (@seaglassheart)/Twitter)

In the backyard of her Ottawa home, April Douglas watches as a monarch butterfly gently rises from her finger.

"Look at how they float," she says. "Aren't they beautiful?"

Douglas is no stranger to monarch butterflies. Over the last three years, she's carefully raised more than 100 of them from eggs, to larva, to caterpillars, to pupa, to eventually fully-grown butterflies, ready to depart her finger for the wide open world.

"Any friend or family member I tell about it, they think I'm a little bit off the wall," she says with a laugh. "But I just adore them."

Monarch butterflies are known for their stunning colouring, their massive annual migrations, and their endangered status.

Climate change, deforestation and pesticide use can affect the species of concern along their 5,000-kilometre migratory route from Mexico.

The monarch butterfly can also serve up as a tasty prey for a myriad of garden insects ranging from spiders to aphids to flies and wasps.

Monarch caterpillars like these are often found on the underside of leaves from the milkweed plant. (April Douglas (@seaglassheart)/Twitter)

That's one reason why, when Douglas and her mother spotted a few black and orange caterpillars on a rainy spring day in 2018, she decided to take them under her wing.

"There was a severe storm coming that evening, and I thought they might get hammered by torrential rain," she said. "So I sort of went with the instincts."

With a snack of milkweed, she set them up in a makeshift terrarium in her kitchen.

"I sat down in front of them at the table for about four or five hours straight, and I just watched them," she said. "I was hooked."

17-day love affair

Since that day, Douglas has rescued dozens of soon-to-be butterflies from the elements. The process is always the same.

After munching on milkweed, the caterpillars begin to climb toward the top of their enclosure. For the next 12 hours, they weave a fine silk that will be their safety thread.

Then "all of sudden," they let go, hanging by their back two legs alone.

"That scared me, cause I thought, 'Oh no, it's hurt.' But that's what they do," Douglas said.

They'll stay like that for as long as 15 hours.

"They change colour, and you can see they're really working at getting that last 'suit' off, before they turn into a chrysalis," she said.

Then it's a long wait for the butterfly to emerge. 

WATCH | One of Douglas' butterflies emerges from its chrysalis:

Watch a monarch butterfly emerge from its chrysalis

2 years ago
Duration 0:52
Over the past three years, Ottawa resident April Douglas has rescued more than 100 monarch butterflies, releasing them back into the wild after raising them. This video, played at three times its normal speed, shows a monarch butterfly emerging.

But when it finally happens, Douglas says, it's still not the end of the story.

"They have to hang for several hours and pump all the fluid that they have in their abdomen through their veins," she said.

"You invest about 17 days of your life raising them, from start to finish, and it's joyful."

Douglas describes the full process as "a very spiritual experience."

Anyone who wants to give it a try, she says, need only look for the tiny white dots on the underside of milkweed leaves that are the telltale marks of monarch eggs.

"I'd really recommend it for anybody to try," she said.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?